As this year’s contentious election cycle draws to a close, law enforcement officials throughout Southern California say they’re ready for what may come on Nov. 3 and beyond.
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading millions to mail in their ballots, and the likelihood of post-election court battles, there may not be a decisive count in the presidential race days or even weeks after Election Day. The lack of a clear winner could prompt clashes between protesters and counter-protesters around the nation.
Beverly Hills is closing Rodeo Drive, where merchants have been encouraged to board up stores. Plywood is also going up in downtown San Francisco and Washington, DC. Some cities are eyeing curfews and stocking up on tear gas.
“If Biden wins, there’s the message: Trump, your time is up, get out of office,” said Cat Brooks, an Oakland-based activist and executive director of anti-police-violence group Justice Teams Network. “And then if Trump wins, of course Oakland would be the place where we would want to have voices in the streets screaming loudly that this is not the America we’re willing to live in.”
In Orange County, the sheriff’s department will activate its operations center to monitor potential unrest, spokeswoman Carrie Braun said. The department has a special unit of more than 800 deputies trained to quickly deploy to trouble spots.
The department has been working with the Registrar of Voters office for a year in preparation for the election. Deputies will guard ballot-collection sites, the Registrar of Voters office and accompany its employees when they collect ballots. The security at the Registrar’s office will continue for a week beyond Election Day
“It is clear that passions are high this election season,” Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “My objective is to ensure all residents of Orange County can exercise their right to vote and right to free speech safely. Peaceful free speech will always be supported, but acts that restrict anyone’s right to vote or cause violence and destruction will be addressed swiftly.”
The election follows a summer and fall of national conflict.
In September, a 40-year-old Long Beach woman drove through a crowd during a heated demonstration in Yorba Linda, badly injuring a man and woman. The driver was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. Tatiana Turner, a Black Lives Matter supporter, said she acted in self-defense after her car was surrounded by pro-Trump demonstrators.
On Friday, a caravan of trucks with Trump flags and signs surrounded a Joe Biden campaign bus in Texas; the Democrats, citing safety concerns, called 911 and canceled appearances there.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, demonstrators in Santa Ana threw rocks and fireworks at police and vandalized and broke into stores, and officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
“A lot of what happens is that you’ll get a peaceful protest and then you get a group of people who hijack a peaceful protest and turn it into a way to commit vandalism and criminal acts,” Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
If police can contact protest organizers beforehand, they will, he said. But marches and rallies can happen abruptly or groups from out of town join in, growing the crowd and escalating tensions.
“If it gets to a point where we need additional support …we’ll reach out to the surrounding cities,” Bertagna said.
Washington DC is boarding up shopfronts, preparing for election destruction. This is the 3rd time they’ve done this since June. pic.twitter.com/eQc8lhe30L
— David Lipson (@davidlipson) October 27, 2020
In Long Beach, where thousands also took to city streets over Floyd’s death, the department has been assessing staff levels and reaching out to community members since September to plan for the election, police spokeswoman Karen Owens said. The city is upping staffing and patrols this week.
Intimidation at the polls won’t be tolerated. Officers will be ready to respond to any issues, she said, though, per the law, they won’t be stationed at polling stations.
The Long Beach Police Department went on Stage Two tactical alert beginning Saturday, which means officers are on 12-hour shifts with no days off.
“That staffing model will be evaluated as the week goes on,” Owens said.
What started out as a peaceful protest in Long Beach on May 31 turned into chaos, as some people vandalized and looted businesses in the downtown area and elsewhere. Some establishments in The Streets and Pike Outlets shopping areas may board up in advance of the election, Downtown Long Beach Alliance spokeswoman Samantha Mehlinger said last week.
In Pasadena, there were dozens of demonstrations following Floyd’s death, each with anywhere from 20 to 500 people. The majority were peaceful, said Police Commander Art Chute. with only a handful of people who tried looting at one point, but officers were able to stop it.
Beverly Hills is hiring 80 armed security guards and partnering with the Santa Paula Police Department’s SWAT Team for election week, ABC7 reported. But LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters, “I don’t want to buy into a narrative that there’s going to be chaos during our election. We prepare for the worst, but we are hoping and expect generally the best. There may be individual instances, we’ll see some stuff around the country, but don’t let any of that change the narrative of you, your right to vote.”
Officer Ryan Railsback, a Riverside Police Department spokesman, said officers have been conducting extra patrols near the Riverside County Registrar of Voters Office.
The Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce has not dispensed any advice to members because it has not been alerted to any trouble, and no merchants have inquired about potential problems, said Cindy Roth, president and CEO of the chamber.
Judi Penman, president and CEO of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, said most of the merchants she talks to believe that concerns about violent protests are mostly a media concoction.
“Individually, when you talk to people, not one person has said, ‘Oh God, we’re afraid we are having civil unrest,’ ” Penman said.
Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register